Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Start of session means -- fundraising time!

Tonight North Carolina's Republican and Democratic lawmakers will take part in what's become a ritual in Raleigh -- the pre-session fundraisers.

Republican House members will gather in a downtown restaurant, GOP senators in a private home. House Democrats will convene in a downtown office building and senators in a nearby wine shop.

Joining them all will be the usual cohort of lobbyists and political action committees, many making a circuit between events.

Once the short session begins Wednesday at noon, lawmakers will no longer be able to take PAC contributions. (They can never take them from lobbyists.)

The fundraisers will fill coffers for this fall's elections, with both sides looking to maximize their financial leverage entering the general election.

Already Tuesday one group boasted a record take. Josh Thomas, director of the House Republican Caucus, said the caucus is sitting on $1 million on hand -- the earliest it's ever reached that milestone.

"It’s the first time we’ve ever had it this early in the election cycle," Thomas said. "It really is a show of unity among our members."

The million dollars represents a significant boost since April. The caucus then reported $679,000 in the bank at the end of March.

House Democrats, by contrast, have about $430,000 on hand, according to caucus director Casey Wilkinson.

Senate Republicans have a war chest almost four times bigger than that of their Democratic counterparts.

Jane Pinsky, director of the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, can live with the fundraisers. But she doesn't want to have to wait until the next reports are due in July to see who's influencing legislators in a session that could be over by then.

"My coalition does not have an opinion on the amount of money in the game, but we do think it all needs to be disclosed," she said. "And if they're going to take money tonight they should disclose it before session starts tomorrow.

"I can make airline reservations on my phone. I can print airline tickets on my phone. There's no reason why they couldn’t disclose before session starts tomorrow from who they are accepting money tonight, or at least from whom they are accepting large contributions.”

The law banning legislators from accepting money from lobbyists won't apply to one Mecklenburg County lawmaker.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Huntersville, can accept lobbyists' money for his U.S. Senate campaign. Because Tillis has pledged to keep his job as speaker this session, critics say it opens the possibility for potential conflicts of interest.